Bush Offers Condolences, Federal Aid in Kansas

President Bush visited Greensburg, Kan., Wednesday, bringing comfort to victims of Friday's tornado and promises of federal aid. The Category 5 tornado damaged or destroyed nearly every one of the town's buildings. Work crews spent the day hauling away debris and restringing power lines.

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President Bush was in Greensburg, Kansas this morning, comforting victims of Friday's tornado and promising federal help to rebuild. The tornado damaged or destroyed nearly every one of the town's buildings. Work crews spent today hauling off debris to be burnt and restringing power lines.

NPR's Jeff Brady reports from Greensburg.

JEFF BRADY: Local officials vowed the president's visit would not disturb their work. And apparently, it didn't.

(Soundbite of helicopters)

BRADY: As three helicopters - including Marine One - circled over Greensburg, people looked up, stared, then resumed their work. On the grounds, small crowds gathered near where the president stopped but just a block away, people kept on working. Mr. Bush shook hands and patted backs.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Glad to be with you. I'm sorry it's under these circumstances.

BRADY: Joey Smaller(ph) and her husband had their picture taken with the president outside a John Deere tractor dealership.

Ms. JOEY SMALLER (Resident, Greensburg, Kansas): We're standing - all three together - arms around each other and when he grabbed a hold of Vern's(ph) shoulder to say, hang in there buddy, he says, man, you're strong, I hope I'm this strong when I'm your age.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRADY: Like most people in town, Morris'(ph) house was destroyed. She and her husband are in their 70s and they're not sure if they'll return. But an encouraging word from the president of the United States was a welcomed distraction - if only for a minute or two.

Ms. MORRIS (Resident, Greensburg, Kansas): He just said he was really, you know, sorry for our situation. He felt really badly about it. And I just expected - he seemed very sincere, I thought.

BRADY: On the other side of town and just before the president arrived, Dave Sterbenz with the Topeka Fire Department briefed reporters huddled under a white tent to escape a rain shower. He began by saying the emergency is over and the focus will be on restoration.

Mr. DAVE STERBENZ (Firefighter, Topeka Fire Department): Now, what we're doing is trying to make sure that our buildings are structurally sound, trying to monitor those, mark those. We may have to go in to do shoring on some places, to where people could get in, for example, at the hospital and get their records.

BRADY: Speaking at the same news conference, a school official said, classes will resume in the fall. Decisions on when and how to reconstruct destroyed buildings haven't been made yet. But he said graduation will be held in Greensburg this year - not sure where, but most likely outside since nearly every building here lies in a heap on the ground.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Greensburg, Kansas.

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